With the stakes being raised at Euro 2016 with the introduction of the knockout stages, Roy Hodgson is out of chips and has one final hand left to play.
The group stage of Euro 2016 has exposed a surprisingly weak link in England’s bid to land a first major title for 50 years.
An attack that was much lauded before the tournament has been utterly exposed as being far below the required standard to achieve this. In a group composed of Wales, Slovakia, and Russia, England registered just three goals and one victory, as well as a disappointing runners-up position.
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Hodgson should take the bulk of the criticism for the highly conservative hands he has played so far, not making enough use of the ace he was originally dealt with.
His insistence on playing Raheem Sterling, who has just two international goals to his name, and Adam Lallana, who has none, as wide-forwards off a lone-striker has backfired dramatically, with a host of missed chances between the pair.
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Harry Kane has looked well below his golden boot winning best when given his chance during the first two games. Jamie Vardy, a potential wildcard joker in the pack, despite scoring against Wales, has similarly been invisible in the play, and has looked increasingly isolated as his playing time has wore on.
Daniel Sturridge, a royalty in possession of the football, has not been given the opportunity to truly play centrally yet, despite his significant contributions to both goals against Wales, hinting this is surely where his talents are best served.
If England persist with the aforementioned formation, their current personnel would be much better suited to a 4-3-1-2. Sturridge should play upfront next to Kane or Vardy, and Dele Alli would play behind as number 10.
Though if Hodgson was truly a betting man, he could play an even greater gamble and reap the rewards.
Marcus Rashford, 18, despite only being presented with 20 minutes of game time thus far in the left-wide forward position, has looked like every bit a player intent on making a serious impact at this tournament.
This shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Ever since his introduction to the football world in late February, he has thrived on all stages. Nine goals from 19 appearances are statistics many top level strikers would envy, let alone aged 18 in your debut season.
He scored on his first team debut for Manchester United in the Europa League, becoming his team’s youngest ever scorer in European competition. As a follow-up, he scored on his debut in the Premier League against Arsenal, and also the winner in the high-pressure cauldron of his first Manchester derby.
Club-level success was replicated on his international debut last month against Australia, where he became the youngest English player to score on such an occasion. A further international accolade was added last week against Wales, where he became the youngest player to represent England at a European Championship.
In a tournament that has seen England painfully wasteful in front of goal, surely a player so unfazed by the pressures of his surroundings is a serious gamble worth taking. His shot accuracy of 65%, and chance conversion rate of 35% during the season, was better than all of his English striking counterparts.
It was most damning towards the end of the Slovakia game, with the deadlock still unbroken, that Hodgson turned to Kane and not Rashford to find that elusive winner. The conservative card did not pay off.
The history of international football tournaments is littered with attacking stars being born when given their chance to shine despite their comparatively youthful teenage years. Think Michael Owen at the World Cup in France 1998.
Now the competition is in the knockout stages, there is no margin for error regardless of the opposition. England desperately need goals if they want to avoid the feared, and failed, penalty shootouts seen in past tournaments.
England should be taking Iceland lightly at their peril. They have won just one knockout game in their last four tournaments and usually know by now they have no game-winning cards left to play.
After his failed bluff in Brazil, Hodgson is effectively now all in and has nothing left to lose.
He has one final ace up his sleeve, and it may even prove to be England’s trump card.
Should Marcus Rashford start for England against Iceland? Have YOUR say in the comment section below!
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